The technology has advanced over the last few years, the price of the test has come down, and business is booming.
The process is straightforward: The lab needs a blood sample, a cheek swab, or a strand of hair pulled from the scalp with the roots and follicle attached. DNA testing costs less than $500, and results are available usually in two weeks.
“With DNA, we can prove that he either is the father or he’s not,” said Gayla with DATCS.com/dna. “It is completely definitive.”
The consequences of such tests can be less straightforward for the families. Just as DNA testing has had a profound impact on the judicial system, releasing innocent prisoners who have spent years behind bars, for example, so too is it raising ethical, legal and moral questions for many American families.
“These test results can change people’s lives,” said Gayla. “People end up in some really difficult situations … I think what’s most shocking is the nuclear family in America doesn’t really exist anymore.”
‘DNA Doesn’t Make a Father’
Betsy and Dan Lynn wed in 1990, vowing their marriage would survive in good times and bad. They had five children, but like so many couples, their love for each other got lost along the way.
“[We] were just ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’; we talked about the kids, the bills, the house,” said Betsy. “Somewhere along the way we had quit having fun and spending time together.”
After being at home for five years, Betsy went back to work in a nursing home, where she met a man and had an affair.
When Betsy became pregnant for a sixth time, her husband assumed it was his — he had no reason to think otherwise.
But then she told her husband about the affair.
To determine who the father is, they decided to get a DNA test. “The baby has a right to know the truth,” said Betsy. “I would hate to have him be an adult and find out the truth in some other way. You have a right to know where you came from and how you got here.”
Betsy added that her husband also has a right to know if he is the father of the child. But he was not. The test came back indicating that Dan “is excluded as the biological father of the child.”
“It’s not what I was hoping for,” said Dan, who was with Betsy when they opened the envelope containing the results. “Not what I thought it was, either.”
For the Lynn family, science did not have the final say on what it means to be a parent. The couple decided to keep their marriage and family together. They are raising new baby Bryce together.
Though Dan said, “It’ll always hurt,” he is not going to let Betsy’s affair stop him from “raising him, bringing him up.”
Asked what she’ll tell Bryce about who is father is, Betsy pointed to Dan: “This man sitting right here for all intents and purposes. DNA doesn’t make a father. We’re a family with all our faults. And we’re far from perfect, but we are a family.”
In fact, since receiving the test results, Betsy said her marriage has grown even stronger. She and Dan hope to have another child together.
‘Love Makes a Parent’
The Hill family in Ashborough, N.C. also used DNA testing to find out about paternity. Gerri Hill’s husband Donald began to suspect right after Gerri gave birth to her fourth son, Ricky, that perhaps the child was not his.
Gerri described her four-year marriage to Donald as strong, but said they have had their troubles, including a trial separation, during which she became pregnant.
The results of the DNA test indicated that Donald was not Ricky’s biological father. “The alleged father lacks the genetic markers that must be contributed to the child by the biological father,” read the letter from the lab. “The probability of paternity is zero percent.”
Emotionally, there is much at stake. But as a practical matter, Gerri said she wants the biological father to help in the child’s expenses. “We have many expenses and it would be the proper thing to do,” she said. “If he doesn’t, I guess that baby will get to see him in court.”
At first Gerri and Donald thought about separating. But Gerri has since said Donald’s love for Ricky is so strong that she thinks they’ll all make it through together. They love their baby more than ever, she said.
“Love is what should make anybody a parent,” she said. “Your love for the child and his love for you makes the relationship. It’s not DNA. That would be a very cold world if it was all based on DNA.”
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